Egypt Seminar Highlights Copyright Laws’ Impact On Library Access14/09/2006 by Intellectual Property Watch 2 CommentsShare this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)The views expressed in this column are solely those of the authors and are not associated with Intellectual Property Watch. IP-Watch expressly disclaims and refuses any responsibility or liability for the content, style or form of any posts made to this forum, which remain solely the responsibility of their authors.Concern is high over the impact on the global public’s access to knowledge of increasing copyright restrictions on that knowledge. Scientists, academics, publishers and others at a September seminar in Alexandria, Egypt discussed how to ensure proper balance between rights and access. Martin Watson of the Quakers United Nations Office participated in the seminar.Martin Watson writes: The Ancient Library of Alexandria, according to most historical accounts, was set on fire in 48 BC by Julius Caesar during a naval battle. Given its rather flammable history, it is no surprise that the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina opened on the 16th October, 2002 with a highly sophisticated emergency fire system.The best way to avoid a fire however, is to get rid of the books. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina has invested time and resources on the systematic digitalisation of Arabic manuscripts, through programmes such as the DigiArab initiative and the Arabic & Middle Eastern Electronic Library (AMEEL). However, international rules on copyright are increasingly frustrating the access students and researchers can have to these and other digital works in foreign languages.Partly in response to these frustrations, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is active in promoting debates across the region on access to knowledge. A recent seminar held on the 7-8 September had as its theme New Tools for the Dissemination of Knowledge and the Promotion of Innovation & Creativity. In the background notes for the seminar, the challenge facing developing countries was outlined as follows:“In a vast and complex information environment, seekers of access to knowledge rely increasingly on the services of intermediaries that select, bundle, guide and offer access to contents (including libraries). … Their activity providing access to knowledge must be reconciled with the interests of holders of intellectual property rights to control the distribution of such content. Occasionally, the interests conflict.”A major theme of the seminar was the impact of global intellectual property (IP) norms such as copyright and database protection on access to knowledge. The concern expressed was that the increased scope of IP protection in multilateral and regional trade agreements has a negative effect on the dissemination of knowledge.One of the speakers, Dr. Nagla Rizk from the Department of Economics at the American University in Cairo summarised the issue. “Given its unique characteristics and the speed of technological advancement, knowledge has the potential of either narrowing or perpetuating global development inequalities. … At the heart of this argument is the belief in the need for knowledge liberalization as opposed to protectionism and fragmentation.”The two day seminar was not restricted to identifying the tensions between IP norms and the activities of libraries in disseminating knowledge. A large amount of time was dedicated to the examination of complementary systems that can co-exist alongside the IP model. Leading scientists, academics and publishers spoke about open collaborative models for scientific research, open access publishing, the Creative Commons and the parameters of an international treaty on access to knowledge – A2K.The seminar also touched on initiatives being taken at the multilateral level. Mr. Ragui El-Etreby, first secretary at the Permanent Mission of Egypt in Geneva, outlined the efforts being undertaken by developing countries in the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). These include proposals on an A2K treaty being discussed in the Provisional Committee for a Development Agenda. This debate is reflected in the press statement issued by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.“The participants underlined that international organisations, particularly in the area of IP, should fully take into consideration and integrate, in their norm setting and technical cooperation activities, the growing trend and momentum towards making information and data available through ‘commons’. In this context, the meeting underlined … the need to achieve concrete progress in this regard at the next meeting of the WIPO General Assemblies.”The Bibliotheca Alexandrina has employed many techniques over the centuries to gather and share information. In ancient times, ships that docked in Alexandria were searched and any books found on board were copied. The Caliph Al-Ma’amoun would pay for Arabic translations of old manuscripts by their weight in gold.Dr. Sohair Wastawy, chief librarian at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina also pays for information, spending her budget of 5 million Egyptian Pounds per annum for access to 28 databases. The ‘first sale doctrine’ that allows libraries to lend books they have purchased does not apply to databases which makes Dr. Wastawy’s job difficult and expensive. In her presentation she quoted the renowned author Jorge Luis Borges, who said “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library”. I hope Borges’ vision will still be possible in the years to come.Martin Watson is representative for global economic issues at the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva.Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Related"Egypt Seminar Highlights Copyright Laws’ Impact On Library Access" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.